Blogging through The Lost World of Adam and Eve (1)

61Y4wiWbWOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Blogging through “The Lost World of Adam and Eve”
• Propositions 1-5

I’d like to take some time during the near future to blog through John Walton’s important book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.

Those familiar with Walton’s earlier work know that he writes on this subject by setting forth propositions, then explaining and defending them. This book contains 21 propositions that focus mostly on the text of Genesis 2-3 and the questions it raises in the origins debates.

The focus is not on concordism, that is, trying to show compatibility between the biblical accounts and scientific findings, but rather on understanding the text of Scripture itself. Walton gives primary attention to the meaning and significance of these OT texts and what they communicate in their Ancient Near Eastern context.

Walton says:

In this book, I will contend that the perceived threat posed by the current consensus about human origins is overblown. That consensus accepts the principles of common ancestry and evolutionary theory as the explanation for the existence of all life. Though we should not blindly accept the scientific consensus if its results are questionable on scientific principles, we can reach an understanding that regardless of whether the the scientific principles stand the test of time or not, they pose no threat to biblical belief. Admittedly, however, a perception of conflict is not uncommon.

With that in mind, I will not give very much attention to the question of the legitimacy of the scientific claims. Instead I will be conducting a close reading of the Bible as an ancient document to explore the claims it makes. (p. 13)

In this new book, John Walton’s first five propositions summarize the groundwork he laid in The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, his work which has changed the discussion dramatically when it comes to the interpretation of Genesis 1 and its portrayal of “creation.”

The first five propositions are:

  • Genesis is an ancient document.
  • In the ancient world and the Old Testament, creating focuses on establishing order by assigning roles and functions.
  • Genesis 1 is an account of functional origins, not material origins.
  • In Genesis 1, God orders the cosmos as sacred space.
  • When God establishes functional order, it is “good.”

With the first proposition, Walton makes the point that God gave his biblical revelation in locutions that were tied to the communicator’s world. The biblical author and the ancient audience were engaged in “high-context” communication because they shared history, culture, language and experiences in common. We who read the Bible today are “low-context” outsiders who must interact with the text by respecting it for the ancient text it is and trying to understand the text in light of the world and worldview in which God gave it. When it comes, therefore, to the relationship between the Bible and modern scientific findings, “the authority of the text is not respected when statements in the Bible that are part of ancient science are used as if they are God’s descriptions of modern scientific understanding” (p. 18). We have access to much more information from the ancient world than interpreters of the past, and it is not hubris to use these findings to help us interpret the text more accurately.

Creation-Day5The next four propositions remind us of how John Walton understands the creation story of Genesis 1 in its ancient context.

Proposition 2: The Bible does not begin with an account that explains the transition from non-existence to existence. Instead, Genesis 1 serves as a literary introduction to what follows, and in 1:2, the material of creation is already present. The seven days of “creation” are actually portrayed as seven days in which God brought order to an already existing creation by assigning roles and functions to its various elements. This is similar to other Ancient Near East creation myths, which describe how chaos was overcome in order to bring order to the world. But Genesis differs also. Here we find no explicit story of a “cosmic battle” by which chaos is tamed. Instead, God brings order by “separating” and “naming.”

Proposition 3: Walton goes through each of the seven days to show how they emphasize the ordering of creation’s elements rather than explaining how the material of the world and universe came into existence. For example, the culmination of day one is not the existence of light and darkness, but the naming of day and night. This day thus describes the origins of time by which humans order our existence. Through separating the “waters above” from the “waters below” on day two, God orders his creation in order to create space in which living creatures can live and flourish. And so on.

Proposition 4: The seventh day, with its depiction of God’s rest, provides a key to understanding the metaphor being presented in Genesis 1. “Rest” is set forth as the objective of the creation account. The ultimate point of the chapter is that God ordered creation so that it would be his temple in which humans and all living creatures might live, relate to him and serve him. When God “rests,” Genesis is describing the installation of a king — God enters his dwelling place and takes his throne. The world is God’s sacred space, he designed it as the realm in which he would dwell with us and we would be his people. This is the message of Genesis 1.

Proposition 5:  Finally, John Walton takes up the question of the word “good” in Genesis 1. Based on his examination of the word and its lexical possibilities, he concludes that “the word never carries [the] sense of unadulterated, pristine perfection” (p. 53), as many interpretations of the creation story assert. Instead, he says it “refers to a condition in which something is functioning optimally as it was designed to do in an ordered system — it is working the way God intended” (p. 55).

I’ll let Walton explain the implications of this:

…it does not suggest that everything pre-fall is perfect. God has established a modicum of order adequate for our survival and for his plan to unfold. There is still a long way to go before the ultimate order of new creation is achieved. People are supposed to be part of that ordering process as vice-regents. Some non-order remains and will eventually be resolved, but the order that has been established is functional (“good”), and there is not yet disorder…. This conclusion can be confirmed by some of the other occurrences of the designation tob me’od (“very good”). For example, the same description is given to the Promised Land (Num 14:7), though it is filled with enemies and wicked inhabitants, not to mention the wild animals who are predators. (p. 56f)

This word does not prove that pain, suffering, predation or death were absent from the world described in Genesis 1. Nor can we conclude from this word that Adam and Eve were perfect in every way.

• • •

That should bring everyone up to speed and prepare us for moving into Genesis 2-3 and discussing Adam and Eve. We’ll begin next week.

16 thoughts on “Blogging through The Lost World of Adam and Eve (1)

  1. Robert F. April 24 at 9:25 pm said:
    “I have doubts about how Walton comes by his certainty of what the definition of the word “good” was to an inhabitant of the Ancient Near East. A lot rides on one’s level of confidence in this definition, . . .”

    The above is a very good question to apply to all assertions of a similar type.
    However, in this particular case, unoffered evidence of the use of me’od (very) and tob (good) in the OT definitively establish that tob me’od does not imply perfection.
    A higher level of good indicated by a doubling of the Hebrew word “me’od” appears six times in the Old Testament. The cited example of ” the Promised Land (Num 14:7)” is one of these instances and uses me’od me’od in describing the good land, not tob me’od as implied by that which Walton wrote.
    A Pdf that shows the Hebrew referring to the land and discusses this issue as it relates to Genesis chapter one can be found at the link below.

    Click to access VeryVeryGood.pdf


  2. I’ll be very interested in reading about the book, both of Walton’s books are on my “to read” list.


  3. Yes, CM, but, as my last comment above states, Walton is not talking about his own view of the matter, but giving what he believes would have been the understanding of the word “good” from the perspective of the writer(s) of Genesis 1. Whether he’s in a position to really know this is a separate matter; he is not, however, saying that that definition of the word “good” is correct, only that it is what the writer(s) of Genesis meant.


  4. Okay, reading this again, I realize that I missed Walton’s point. He’s saying that he knows what the word “good” meant to the writer(s) of Genesis 1, and on the basis of his reading and interpretation of the text itself, and current scholarship about the period, it didn’t mean “perfection.” It means, rather, the bracketed quote from Walton above.

    I have doubts about how Walton comes by his certainty of what the definition of the word “good” was to an inhabitant of the Ancient Near East. A lot rides on one’s level of confidence in this definition, and I’m just not sure that textual scholars like Walton know enough about the context of the ancient world to pin down definitions like this with anything like certainty. Textual scholarship is not science.


  5. I noticed that too, Robert, and felt that Walton was trying to hedge his bets a bit and tone down the implications of his statement. I was going to wait until I get to the section on the fall to see if he clarifies.


  6. I’m not taking issue with the idea that goodness does not necessarily involve perfection; I agree that something can be good, even very good, and not be perfect at the same time. But I do disagree with the idea that death and suffering are merely the the remainder of non-order waiting for the finishing of God’s creative ordering (with human co-creation, Walton says); I think they are in fact the disordering of something that was previously ordered.


  7. “Some non-order remains and will eventually be resolved, but the order that has been established is functional (good), and there is not yet disorder….”

    In my experience and understanding, death and suffering are disorder, and if death and suffering were present “in the world described by Genesis 1”, then disorder was present. Death is specifically a total disordering of the integrated biological functions of a living being, such that the being can never recover the lost integration from within the closed system of its own being and environment. Aside from God, for whom no system is closed, a living thing that dies has been completely disordered, to the degree that it does not really exist in a state of death, but has died and thereby ceased to exist. Death is the most permanent form of disorder, from which the living cannot recover order (again, apart from a gracious act of God, who is not closed into the the same system).


  8. CM,

    I have appreciated Walton’s view, though have not read the books but only long quotes. I look forward to this as well. I know you know that Sailhamer was “there” first – a friend of mine told me about JS a few years ago. So interesting that the door is now open for examining Genesis in this manner. I think it will be very fruitful and give people some needed relief.

    Your outline above has much in common with Orthodoxy – you knew I was going to say that 🙂 But it’s not only the aspect of our first parents not being “perfect.” Having lately come through Holy Week, there are still reverberations of it all for me. Here are some connections that struck me viz. the seventh day; I think you know that Holy Saturday in the East is just as significant as Holy Friday.

    -““Rest” is set forth as the objective of the creation account.”
    Holy Saturday is viewed as the antitype of God resting on the seventh day of creation, with Christ as God resting in the tomb.

    -“The ultimate point of the chapter is that God ordered creation so that it would be his temple in which humans and all living creatures might live, relate to him and serve him.”
    On Holy Saturday, the anticipation begins very quietly during the Vespers service, but as the day goes on, the air becomes thick with awaiting the dawn of the Eighth Day, when the New Creation is inaugurated and this total “functional ordering,” though not yet complete, becomes Reality. The Resurrection is the beginning of what will finally come to pass fully as what St Paul describes in Rom 8.

    “When God “rests,” Genesis is describing the installation of a king — God enters his dwelling place and takes his throne.”
    Holy Friday is viewed as Christ taking his throne – on the Cross. Not only that, but when Pilate says “Behold, the Man!” he is declaring prophetically that Christ is the first Truly Human Being, the true capstone, finally, of God’s creation. His resting in the tomb is indeed part of that installation of not only God, but the First Truly Human Being on his rightful throne. In addition, this is part of a prayer we say between Pascha and Pentecost: “How life-giving, how much more beautiful than paradise, and truly more resplendent than any royal palace is Your grave, the source of our resurrection, O Christ.”

    “The world is God’s sacred space, he designed it as the realm in which he would dwell with us and we would be his people.”
    All that has happened from Holy Thursday through Pascha has set the stage for this to finally be reality. On Holy Saturday afternoon and evening, people take turns chanting through the book of Acts right up until the Pascha service begins, because we are already looking forward to the final event of the set of events that includes the giving of the Eucharist, Christ demonstrating God’s forgiveness and entering death along with us, coming into his Kingdom on the Cross, destroying the power of death as he harrows Hades and then rises with his glorified body: the Sending of His Own Spirit on Pentecost after he has been installed at his Ascension as King over the heavens as well as the earth. Because of all this, he now well and truly dwells with us, and we are his people as we enter his death and Resurrection life through Baptism, and hopefully live out our Baptism the rest of our lives.



  9. I’ve been following ever since the first day of Lent this year. I did a search for the ’10 Best Christian Blogs’ and this site was one of them. Have been reading every day and have not been disappointed since. I was pleasantly surprised to see some posts about ‘post-evangelical’ world which is exactly where I am am right now. Anyway . .

    In my teens (1970s) I bought a ‘Dakes Annotated” Bible (still have it). His commentaries in Genesis came from his believe of a pre-Adamite existence. As a Pentecost it brought angst to Brother Brooks who was pastor at the time. I never dismissed that line of theology, but after all these years I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter where you begin, how it all began, when it all came to ‘be’, just as long as you begin with God. I sincerely believe this now and it has allowed me to be open to the scientific line of thought. I try to be a good Berean. I also think a person can ‘discover’ more by allowing God to be part of HIs creation.

    I thoroughly enjoy these types of discussions and look forward to what lies ahead. Count me in as well.


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